John Rutter is such an important presence
on the choral scene of the English-speaking world that it comes
as something of a surprise to find that this is his first CD of
his own music for several years. In that period he’s done quite
a lot of very valuable work producing recordings of vocal music
by other artists. And, as this disc shows, he’s been busy composing
too. Most of the pieces on this new disc were written in the last
Aficionados of Rutter’s music will be delighted to know that these most recent compositions bear all the hallmarks of his music. All are expertly crafted; the scoring of the accompaniments is a constant delight; the music seems to lie beautifully for the voices; and there’s that characteristic melodic flair. Rutter is a consummate tunesmith and he’s still writing melodies that have immediate appeal and that lodge firmly in the memory.
The collection is topped and tailed, as it were, by fine settings of the Morning Canticles, the Jubilate and the Te Deum. Both of these were written for special occasions and they are suitably celebratory in tone. But how much I agree with Bob Briggs’s comment in a recent review
of Rutter’s Christmas music that it would be a major addition to the choral repertoire if John Rutter would write a setting of the Evening Canticles - a ‘Mag’ and ‘Nunc’. ‘Rutter in G’ – or in any key, come to that - would be a tempting prospect for church choirs.
But that’s for the future, one hopes; for now there’s much in Rutter’s most recent output to enjoy. For me, the most successful items here, apart from the aforementioned canticles, are the pieces in which Rutter adopts a more serious countenance – without ever sacrificing his instinctive accessibility. Most glorious Lord of life
is an excellent anthem, with brass and organ accompaniment, which culminates in a setting for unison choir of a verse from the great Easter hymn, ‘The
Day of Resurrection.’ What a stirring tune it is – and how well it emerges from Rutter’s original music. In this passage the organ contribution is thrilling.
A less ‘public’ piece is O Lord, thou hast searched me out
, a really intense and eloquent anthem – indeed, this contains the best music on the disc. As suggested by the title, the music is truly searching. The anthem was written in memory of Dr George Guest and first performed on Ash Wednesday in St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge, where Dr Guest led the music with such distinction for nearly four decades. Enriched by a plaintive cor anglais obbligato, I think this piece is a major addition to the repertoire of expert church choirs.
Cambridge connections also resonate in two other important pieces. Veni Sancte Spiritus
was written for King’s College choir. This is highly atmospheric and at times put me very much in mind of Rutter’s excellent Hymn to the Creator of Light
. And one of the most recent pieces, The King of Blis
, is a rhythmically exciting – and exacting – unaccompanied carol. It was written for Rutter’s alma mater, Clare College, to mark the final Christmas season of Timothy Brown, John Rutter’s distinguished successor as Director of Music at the college; a worthy tribute indeed.
The performances by The Cambridge Singers are exemplary throughout and the composer’s direction must be counted as definitive. John Rutter’s many admirers will surely join me in welcoming this disc and anyone who has been misguided enough to dismiss him as a ‘mere’ composer of easy-going carols should listen to some of the pieces mentioned above and think again. Now, Mr Rutter, what about that ‘Mag and Nunc’?